The constitution provides for the freedom of religious choice, as long as doing so does not impinge on the rights of others or the national interest. It prohibits religious discrimination, establishment of a state religion, and formation of political parties based on religious affiliation. Two years of drafting a new constitution and a parliamentary debate described by media as polarized and acrimonious came to an end when the legislature in September rejected the new constitution. Although not the main issue of contention, the omission of the word “secular” in the draft generated debate during the ratification process. Some members of the Christian community had advocated the inclusion of the word “secular” in the description of the republic, stating that the omission of the specific reference to the secular nature of the state left open the possibility of minority persecution and the unilateral formation of an Islamic government, although other provisions of the draft constitution guaranteed religious freedom and nonestablishment of a state religion. Some Muslim commentators said the country “should remain a nonsecular state” in recognition not only of its 95-percent Muslim majority and interpretations of Quranic law, but also of the overwhelming importance of religious faith in the country to both Muslims and Christians. In televised statements during religious holidays, President Adama Barrow stressed the need for continued religious freedom and tolerance.
There continued to be tension between the majority Sunni Muslim and the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim communities. The Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), a religious body tasked with providing Islamic religious guidance, continued to state the Ahmadiyya community did not belong to Islam, and the council did not include members of the community in its events and activities.
While the global COVID-19 pandemic impacted the nature of U.S. embassy engagement, the Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with government officials to discuss religious freedom and tolerance. Embassy representatives held meetings with religious leaders of different faith groups to emphasize the importance of continued religious tolerance. The embassy shared messages on social media to celebrate religious holidays and the importance of religious freedom.
The constitution provides for the right to practice or not to practice religion freely and prohibits discrimination based on religion. These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency. The constitution prohibits political parties from using names or symbols associated with religious groups. Religious groups have the right to organize, worship, and operate schools. According to local organizations, as an Islamic State-affiliated group intensified attacks in Cabo Delgado Province, residents in the province who appeared to be Muslim continued to face risk of detention by police and armed forces. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), news media outlets, and human rights organizations strongly criticized what they termed the government’s sometimes heavy-handed response as exacerbating existing grievances among historically marginalized majority-Muslim populations. In August, after the Bishop of Pemba in northern Mozambique faced social media threats for criticizing the government’s failure to protect civilians in Cabo Delgado, President Filipe Nyusi met with him and expressed appreciation for his efforts to assist displaced civilians. The draft religious freedom law that the government proposed in 2019 remained pending in parliament at year’s end. If approved, it would require religious groups to have a minimum of 500 followers in order to register with the Ministry of Justice.
Religious leaders at the national and provincial level continued to call for religious tolerance and condemned the use of religion to promote violence. As in previous years, as the conflict in Cabo Delgado worsened, Muslim and Christian leaders continued to condemn violence as a means of political change, and Muslim leaders emphasized that religious-based violence that invoked Islam was inconsistent with tenets of the faith.
The Ambassador discussed the escalating attacks in Cabo Delgado with President Nyusi, the Minister of Justice, and other high-level officials. Among other messages, he noted the continued need to engage partners from the religious community to address effectively the ongoing violence. The U.S. government continued to implement activities in Cabo Delgado to improve faith-based community resilience and work with religious leaders to counter extremist messaging.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates there shall be no state religion. It provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion, and to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious organization in a manner consistent with the constitution. The government requires religious groups to register. Between May 18 and May 29, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) officers arrested six Muslim clerics in Masaka District and accused them of running a cell operated by the ISIS-linked armed group Allied Democratic Front. The security forces continued to hold the clerics without trial at year’s end. On July 5, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) evicted leaders of the Salafi-associated Tabliq Muslim group from a mosque in Kampala and arrested seven of its clerics before restoring management of the mosque to the largest Sunni umbrella organization, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC). Police released the clerics on July 12 after a court order. On March 28, police arrested evangelical Christian minister Augustine Yiga after he questioned government messaging on COVID-19. The court released him on bail on May 5 and restricted him from making any public statements regarding COVID-19. Some religious leaders said that the government discriminated against religious institutions when it relaxed restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, allowing businesses and public transport to operate but denying permission to religious institutions to reopen at the same time. The UMSC stated the government continued to discriminate against Muslims when distributing national resources and hiring for public positions.
In October, Born Again Faith Uganda (BAFU), an umbrella organization of evangelical churches, reported members of opposing faiths – who did not want to have evangelical churches in their communities – complained of noise pollution from the churches to local leaders, who then evicted churches from the communities.
U.S. embassy representatives regularly discussed religious freedom issues with government officials. On April 30, the Charge d’Affaires held discussions with Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and encouraged the government to enforce measures to combat COVID-19 without violating human rights. Embassy representatives engaged local government officials in the eastern part of the country to promote religious tolerance. Embassy representatives met with leaders of Sunni umbrella organizations, including UMSC and the Kibuli Order of the Supreme Mufti, Nadwa (a coalition of Muslim scholars), Scholars Forum, and Tabliq imams, to promote religious tolerance, education, and peacebuilding in the country. To mark the start of Ramadan in April, the Charge d’Affaires used the embassy’s social media platforms to promote religious tolerance.